The New Yorker's new TV showJAN 15

TV1 is the place to be. Amazon recently signed Woody Allen up to do a show. And today, The New Yorker debuts the first episode of their new show on Amazon: The New Yorker Presents, complete with a Alfred Hitchcock-esque silhouette on the title card to match the riff on the name of Hitch's 50s TV program.

America's most award-winning magazine comes to life in this new docu-series. Produced by Oscar & Emmy winner Alex Gibney, the pilot features a doc from Oscar winner Jonathan Demme based on Rachel Aviv's article "A Very Valuable Reputation," writer Ariel Levy interviewing artist Marina Abramovic, a sketch from Simon Rich and Alan Cumming, poetry read by Andrew Garfield, and cartoons by Emily Flake.

The first episode is free to watch for all. I watched the first five minutes and it's promising and pretty much what you would expect.

  1. Is this what we're going to call these things, television? How many people actually watch these Amazon shows on a television? Increasingly fewer and fewer, I'd guess.

David Ehrlich's top 25 films of 2014JAN 15

David Ehrlich returns with a video montage of his 25 favorite movies of 2014. (Here's his 2013 video.)

His top 5:

5. Gone Girl
4. Nymphomaniac
3. Under The Skin
2. Inherent Vice
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

These year-end videos by Ehrlich are incredibly effective trailers for movies. Not just the individual films, but the whole idea of cinema itself. Having just watched this, I want to leave my office, head to the nearest theater and just watch movies all day.

8-bit Guardians of the GalaxyJAN 14

There a lots of videos of movies reimagined as 8-bit video games out there (Kill Bill, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction), but I'm posting the Guardians of the Galaxy one because of the excellent chiptune rendition of the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack.

Hooked on a Feeling, beep beep doot doot... (via devour)

The US border is 100 miles wideJAN 14

Today I learned that the US government considers the US border as extending 100 miles into the country. This means that states like Maine, Michigan, and Florida are entirely within the border area and 2/3 of the US population lives within the border.

US 100 Mile Border

The problem with this, from the standpoint of the ACLU, is that Border Patrol agents have "certain extra-Constitutional powers" within this area and "routinely" overstep their bounds and violate the constitutional rights of innocent people.

See also 35 maps that explain how America is a nation of immigrants. (via @tcarmody)

Update: So, as you may know, I am not a Constitutional lawyer or even a regular lawyer. The ACLU presumably employs and/or utilizes experts on Constitutional and immigration law. But they have a viewpoint, right? They are interested in the civil liberties of individual Americans. Anyway, Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center (who is also not a lawyer), notes that the US has a couple of different ideas of what a border is and what can be done at or within each kind of border is slightly different.

Legally, the 100-mile-wide region is called the "extended border" of the U.S., as defined by Title 8 of the Federal Code of Regulations. There is also something called the "functional equivalent" border, which is the area around international airports in the interior region of the U.S.

The DHS ruling from last Friday said its "warrantless searches" applied to the U.S. "border and its functional equivalent," with no mention of the extended 100-mile border.

Two analysis papers from the Congressional Research Service from 2009 offer some legal insight into what tactics agents can follow within the 100-mile-wide extended border, and why the distinction between the extended border and the other two borders is important.

Searches within the 100-mile extended border zone, and outside of the immediate border-stop location, must meet three criteria: a person must have recently crossed a border; an agent should know that the object of a search hasn't changed; and that "reasonable suspicion" of a criminal activity must exist, says the CRS. (The service had done the legal analyses to prepare Congress members for legislation.)

"Although a search at the border's functional equivalent and an extended border search require similar elements, the extended border search entails a potentially greater intrusion on a legitimate expectation of privacy. Thus, an extended border search always requires a showing of 'reasonable suspicion' of criminal activity, while a search at the functional equivalent of the border may not require any degree of suspicion whatsoever," the CRS says.

In November of 2014, This American Life aired a piece on several people who record on video their interactions with Border Patrol agents at inland checkpoints.

So if you haven't spent much time in the Southwest, you might not know about this. But there are these Border Patrol checkpoints that are just like in the middle of highway interstates and other roads, not at the border, not even near the border. They're as far as 100 miles from the border.

There are dozens of these interior or inland checkpoints across the country. They're mostly in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. But now there are a couple in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington state. You know that you're approaching one of these checkpoints, because the speed limit will suddenly drop to 45 miles an hour and then 25. You'll slow down, and you stop, you see these orange cones coming up. And then often there's this big sort of tent-looking structure, like, right in the middle of the highway.

And then you stop, and you're right in the middle of the highway. And an agent in uniform, an armed agent walks up and asks you questions like, are you an American citizen? Sometimes he asks to look in your trunk. All this so they can catch undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers.

I've been through one of these checkpoints in VT, about 40-50 miles from the Canadian border, and hey, these checkpoints really make you feel like a criminal...like if you seem nervous they're going to pull you over and detain you because you seem like you've done something wrong. And that's what the ACLU is concerned about: Border Agents routinely treating law-abiding US citizens as criminals far from their true areas of jurisdiction. Again from This American Life, one guy got his car window broken at a checkpoint because he did not want to cooperate with the agents:

Violence like this doesn't happen a lot in these videos, but it does happen. Agents also broke the window of that pastor I mentioned earlier, Steven Anderson. They tased him and bloodied his face.

In Robert's case, he says the agents seized his cameras, put him in handcuffs, drove him far away to a holding cell, and detained him for hours. Then they drove them even farther away to El Cajon, California, let him out late at night at a bus station, and drove off.

You can watch the video here:

The glass is broken at ~11:00. (thx, @harryh & martha)

24 pieces of life advice from Werner HerzogJAN 14

Werner Herzog Bear

Paul Cronin's book of conversations with filmmaker Werner Herzog is called Werner Herzog - A Guide for the Perplexed. On the back cover of the book, Herzog offers a list of advice for filmmakers that doubles as general purpose life advice.

1. Always take the initiative.
2. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
3. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
4. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
5. Learn to live with your mistakes.
6. Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
7. That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
8. There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
9. Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
10. Thwart institutional cowardice.
11. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
12. Take your fate into your own hands.
13. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
14. Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
15. Walk straight ahead, never detour.
16. Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver.
17. Don't be fearful of rejection.
18. Develop your own voice.
19. Day one is the point of no return.
20. A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
21. Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
22. Guerrilla tactics are best.
23. Take revenge if need be.
24. Get used to the bear behind you.

I bet this is some of the stuff you learn at Herzog's Rogue Film School:

The Rogue Film School is not for the faint-hearted; it is for those who have travelled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs or as wardens in a lunatic asylum, for those who are willing to learn about lockpicking or forging shooting permits in countries not favoring their projects. In short: for those who have a sense of poetry. For those who are pilgrims. For those who can tell a story to four year old children and hold their attention. For those who have a fire burning within. For those who have a dream.

Soderbergh's edit of 2001JAN 14

So. Steven Soderbergh has cut his own version of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like, !!!1

I haven't had a chance to watch this yet, so I don't know what's different about it aside from the shorter runtime of 1h50m. If someone watches it and wants to report in about the differences, let me know. Soderbergh also guessed that Kubrick would have liked shooting on digital:

let me also say i believe SK would have embraced the current crop of digital cameras, because from a visual standpoint, he was obsessed with two things: absolute fidelity to reality-based light sources, and image stabilization. regarding the former, the increased sensitivity without resolution loss allows us to really capture the world as it is, and regarding the latter, post-2001 SK generally shot matte perf film (normally reserved for effects shots, because of its added steadiness) all day, every day, something which digital capture makes moot. pile on things like never being distracted by weaving, splices, dirt, scratches, bad lab matches during changeovers, changeovers themselves, bad framing and focus exacerbated by projector vibration, and you can see why i think he might dig digital.

See also Soderbergh's B&W edit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (via @fengypants)

Update: Reader and 2001 fan Dan Norquist watched Soderbergh's edit and reported back via email:

I love everything Soderbergh does and I love the fact that he cut this film. It's fun to see it in a more concise form. Really, there's no choppy edits or anything that doesn't make sense (except the whole movie of course!). I did miss some of my favorite parts. I love when the father is talking to his daughter on the video phone. Also, if you weren't around in 1968 it's really hard to describe how scary the Cold War was. There was always this thing hanging over our heads, that the Russians really had the means to destroy us with nuclear weapons. So you really need the full scene where the American meets the Russians (Soviets). The forced, unnatural politeness is so brilliant and helped to give the film context in its time.

All the important stuff is there -- the apes, the monolith, HAL turning evil, astronaut spinning away, the speeding light show (shortened?), old man pointing at space child -- and it's all recut by a master.

Finally, there is something about the full length of the original film that is part of its strength as a piece of art. There is no hurry, no cut to the chase. It's almost as if you have to go through the entire journey before you can earn the bubble baby at the end.

No surprise that he tightened it up into something less Kubrickian and more Soderberghish. Dan closed his email by saying he would recommend it to fans of the original. (thx, dan)

Update: I've seen some comments on Twitter and elsewhere about the legality of Soderbergh posting the 2001 and Raiders edits. The videos are hosted on Vimeo, but are private and can't be embedded on any site other than Soderbergh's. But any enterprising person can easily figure out how to download either video. The Raiders video has been up since September, which means either that Paramount doesn't care (most likely in my mind) or their lawyers somehow haven't caught wind of it, even though it was all over the internet a few months ago (less likely). We'll see if whoever owns the rights to 2001 (Time Warner?) feels similarly.

An interesting wrinkle here is that Soderbergh has been outspoken about copyright piracy and the Internet. From a 2009 NY Times article about a proposed French anti-piracy law:

In the United States, a Congressional committee this week began studying the issue. In a hearing Monday before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Steven Soderbergh, the film director, cited the French initiative in asking lawmakers to deputize the American film industry to pursue copyright pirates.

Deputizing the film industry to police piracy sounds a little too much like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. I wonder if Soderbergh feels like these edits are legal to post publicly, if they are fair use for example. Or rather if he feels it's not but he can get away with it because he is who he is. (thx, @bc_butler)

Update: Soderbergh has removed his cut of 2001 from his site "AT THE REQUEST OF WARNER BROS. AND THE STANLEY KUBRICK ESTATE". So, that answers that question. (via @fengypants)

  1. I also found out that apparently I had jury duty last week on the same day in the same room as Soderbergh. Total embarrassing fanboy meltdown narrowly avoided.

On the importance of dinersJAN 14

At Serious Eats, Ed Levine writes about Why Diners Are More Important Than Ever. From his ten-point list of what defines a diner:

8. All-occasion places: Diners must rise to many occasions, from first dates to pre- or post-game celebrations by fans or teammates, to wallowing in solitary self-pity. Diners are the best restaurants for planning murders, stick-ups, or other nefarious enterprises.

Being an all-occasion place is not the only egalitarian thing about diners:

People talk about Starbucks reintroducing the notion of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the "third place" in American life: spaces where we gather besides home and work to form real, not virtual, communities. Starbucks and more high-minded cafes that followed in its wake have surely succeeded on this point, but long before 1971, when the first Starbucks opened in Pike Place Market in Seattle, diners were already serving that invaluable function for us, along with the corner tavern.

And that's why we need to cherish our local diners, whether it's a mom and pop or a Waffle House or a Greek coffee shop. They're some of the few cheap, all-inclusive places to eat and hang out and laugh and cry and stay viscerally connected with other folks.

And it warmed my heart to see Ed include Cup & Saucer and Eisenberg's on his list of notable NYC diners. An unusual thing I've noticed about Eisenberg's: instead of getting your check at the table, you just tell the cashier what you ordered on the way out and pay for it. Like on the honor system! Is there anywhere else in NYC that does this? I wonder what their loss rate is compared to the norm?

80s tech and Back to the FutureJAN 13

In his piece on Back to the Future trilogy, Tim Carmody focuses not on the 2015 future of the movies (hoverboards, self-drying jackets, Mr. Fusion) but on what the movies can tell us about technology in the 1980s. This riff on Back to the Future's cassette tape method of time travel is quite clever:

I sometimes call this "the cassette era," and sure enough, cassettes are everywhere. Marty has a Walkman, a camcorder, and an audition tape for his band; the Pinheads have recorded a demo even though they've never played in front of an audience.

As a material support for a medium, the cassette has certain advantages and disadvantages. It's more portable and sturdy than reels or records, and it requires less user interaction or expertise. It requires very fine interactions of miniaturized technology, both mechanical and electronic, in the form of transistors, reading heads, and so forth. Magnetic tape can actually record information as digital or analog, so it's curiously agnostic in that respect.

Cassettes can also be easily rewound or fast forward. It's easy to synchronize and dub the contents of one cassette onto another. And users can easily erase or rerecord information over the same tape.

This has clear implications for how we think - and especially, how our predecessors thirty years ago thought-about time travel. It is no accident that many important time travel films, including the Terminator franchise, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and yes, the Back to the Future movies, appear at this time. In all three cases, time travel is accomplished with a technological mechanism that allows its users precise control of where they arrive in the timestream. (In earlier time travel stories, travellers slide down a river or awake from a dream, but in the 1980s, the H.G. Wells/Doctor Who conception of time travel through a technological device pretty definitively wins out.) And in all three cases, the goal of time travel is to save and/or rewrite events within a specific person's lifetime, without which a future timeline will cease to exist.

Matthew McConaughey's Dazed and Confused audition tapeJAN 13

Here's Matthew McConaughey doing a proto-Wooderson for his Dazed and Confused audition.

(via devour)

The Book of Mormon Missionary PositionsJAN 13

Sometimes religion and a bit of wordplay come together to make something clever. So it is with Neil DaCosta's project, The Book of Mormon Missionary Positions, a collection of photos depicting two fully clothed Mormon Missionaries in various sexual positions, as in the Kama Sutra.

Mormon Missionary Position

NSFW, I guess...I felt a bit sheepish scrolling through that page at the office even though everyone is fully clothed. (via a photo editor)

Behind the scenes of The Lego MovieJAN 13

Nice four-minute video about how the creators of The Lego Movie used CGI to make the movie look like it was 100% constructed with real Lego bricks with fingerprints and everything and animated in stop motion.

I've watched it twice with my kids, and The Lego Movie was way better than it had any right to be. They so easily could have bollocksed the whole thing up. Maybe the secret is Chris Pratt? Guardians of the Galaxy was better than it should have been as well. I'm bearish on Jurassic World, but come on Indy! (via devour)

Every David Bowie hairstyle from 1964 to 2014JAN 12

Helen Green drew all the hairstyles worn by David Bowie from before he was a star in 1964 on up to the present day. Here's they are in a glorious animated GIF:

Bowie Hair

Green also did a one-sheet of the B&W drawings. See also every Prince hairstyle from 1978 to 2013. (via @Coudal)

Stunning aerial photos of NYC at night by Vincent LaforetJAN 12

Photographer Vincent Laforet hung himself out of a helicopter hovering at 7500 feet with his high-ISO cameras to capture these gorgeous shots of NYC at night. The blue-purple glow is Times Square.

Laforet NYC Night

Laforet NYC Night

Laforet NYC Night

These are pictures I've wanted to make since I was in my teens, but the cameras simply have not been capable of capturing aerial images from a helicopter at night until very recently.

Helicopters vibrate pretty significantly and you have to be able to shoot at a relatively high shutter speed (even with tools like a gyroscope) and that makes it incredibly difficult to shoot post sunset.Special thanks to long time friend and aerial coordinator Mike Isler & Liberty Helicopters.

Armed with cameras such as the Canon 1DX and the Mamiya Leaf Credo 50 MP back -- both capable of shooting relatively clean files at 3200 & 6400 ISO and a series of f2.8 to f1.2 lenses including a few tilt-shift lenses.

I was finally able to capture some of the images that I've dreamed of capturing for decades.

Check out the whole series on Laforet's web site.

My Struggle: Book Four out in April 2015JAN 12

The English translation of the fourth volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard's epic My Struggle is coming out in April.

At eighteen years, old Karl Ove moves to a tiny fisherman's village in the far north of the arctic circle to work as a school teacher. No interest in the job itself, his intention is to save up enough money to travel while finding the space and time to start his writing career. Initially everything looks fine. He writes his first few short stories, finds himself accepted by the hospitable locals, and receives flattering attention from several beautiful local girls. But as the darkness of the long arctic nights start to consume the landscape, Karl Ove's life takes a darker turn.

It looks like an alternate translation of the book will be out in the UK in March in case you want to get a head start on everyone else. Or there's always Norwegian lessons...the sixth and final volume was published in Norway in 2011.

Responsive logos and abstraction in designJAN 12

Responsive web design is a technique used by web builders where the design adapts to different screen sizes. Designer Joe Harrison has built a page with responsive logos for several well-known brands, including Coca-Cola, Nike, Disney, and Levi's. If you resize the page, you can see the logos change. Here's how the Disney logo looks as your browser window gets smaller (from L to R):

Responsive Disney Logo

As the browser gets smaller, the logos lose detail and become more abstract. By the time you get to the smallest screen width, you're down to just the Disney "D" or Nike swoosh or Heineken red star, aka the bare minimum you need to render the logo recognizable, if only on a subconscious or emotional level. Which reminds me of Scott McCloud's discussion of iconic abstraction (and The Big Triangle) in Understanding Comics, which is still one of the best books on design and storytelling I've ever read. Here's a bit of the relevant passage:

Comics Abstraction

Defining the cartoon would take up as much space as defining comics, but for now, I'm going to examine cartooning as a form of amplification through simplification. When we abstract an image through cartooning, we're not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential "meaning", an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can't.

The reason why those particular logos work responsively is because they each have abstract representations that work on that meaningful emotional level. You see that red Levi's tag or Nike swoosh and you feel something.1 I think companies are having to design logos in this way more frequently. Contemporary logos need to look good on freeway billboards, on letterhead, as iOS icons, and, in the case of the Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest logos, affixed to tiny tweet/like/pin buttons. (via ministry of type)

  1. I've talked about this elsewhere, but in designing the "identity" for kottke.org (such as it is), having an abstract logo identifying element has been an important part of the process. I wanted to have an element (currently the blue gradient) that if you saw it and recognized it, you had a reaction to it on a emotional level. Here's what I wrote about an older kottke.org design: "The yellow-green thing at the top is a tag. Like the red tag on Levi's jeans or even the red stripe on Prada shoes. It's small, out of the way, but when you see it on something, you know exactly what you're holding in your hands." It's my favorite design trick and likely influenced by Understanding Comics more than I realize.

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